Panthers’ run to Stanley Cup final makes Bruins’ loss even more painful

Panthers’ run to Stanley Cup Final makes Bruins loss even more painful originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Florida Panthers are no joke.

Their stunning first-round upset against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs was no fluke.

Since falling 3-1 in their first round game against the Bruins, the Panthers have won 11 of their last 12 games, the last of which was a decisive victory for the Eastern Conference title. against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night. The 4-3 win at FLA Live Arena completed a sweep of the “Canes” and clinched the Panthers’ ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1996.

Does the Panthers’ unlikely journey to the Cup Final make the Bruins’ defeat any less painful? Should it be considered less upsetting, especially if Florida finishes the job and wins its first championship?

No not at all.

In fact, this Panthers run makes Boston’s historic first-round exit even harder to bear.

One thing the Panthers have shown is that the road to the Stanley Cup Finals across the East isn’t as difficult as we thought it was about a month ago.

Let’s not take too much away from the Panthers. They played fantastic through three rounds. But before the playoffs, the East was supposed to be an absolute brawl with elite teams struggling in six- or seven-game series, and that scenario never played out. Remember that five of the seven teams with the best Cup odds before the playoffs were in the East.

The Bruins had so many chances to eliminate the Panthers. Brad Marchand had a breakaway in the dying seconds of Game 5. The Bs could have won in overtime of that game, but Linus Ullmark’s turnover cost them dearly. The Bs had several third-period leads in Game 6 and lost 7-5. They led with a minute left in Game 7 regulation at home before losing again in overtime.

If the Bruins win one of those games, it’s not hard to imagine them preparing for the Stanley Cup Finals right now.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs once again proved unreliable when it mattered most. The Leafs’ best players — Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and John Tavares — have consistently failed to show up in clutch situations against the Panthers. Florida cruised through Toronto in five games in the second round. There’s no reason the Bruins couldn’t do something similar against a Leafs team that Boston has owned for a decade.

The Carolina Hurricanes were pretty beaten by the time they got to the Eastern Conference Finals. They were without three of their best forwards – Max Pacioretty, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen – through injury. The Hurricanes’ depth up front was depleted, and they scored just six goals in four Conference Finals games against the Panthers. The Carolina goaltender was mediocre for much of the regular season and it wasn’t much better in the playoffs.

Unlike last season, the Bruins likely would have gone through this version of the Hurricanes, similar to what they did in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals.


Of course, there’s no guarantee the Bruins would have made it through the second and third rounds had they beaten the Panthers, especially with Patrice Bergeron, Hampus Lindholm (and likely other players) struggling with injuries, but they would have had a pretty good chance of reaching the Cup final regardless.

And that’s what makes the first-round loss even more excruciating for the Bruins. The path would not have been super difficult. The competition was not as fierce as imagined. The 2023 playoffs were a golden opportunity for the franchise to win its second Stanley Cup this century. We could have had a Bruce Cassidy game against the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals – assuming his Vegas Golden Knights finish the Dallas Stars (VGK are up 3-0). It would have been amazing.

The Bruins’ shocking exit against the Panthers will haunt the franchise forever. The fact that the Panthers make it to the Stanley Cup Finals doesn’t change that. In fact, that should make the disappointment in Boston even bigger.

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